Thursday, 17 January 2013

Day 17 - Congratulations Helen and Alex

Thursday 17th January

We have a winner to yesterdays giveaway. Helen and Alex correctly stated that the old school friend was Tracey. I will be posting off your goodie bag soon and will post a photo on the blog. Well done guys!

I am writing slightly earlier because home school has just finished and I did want to share. A focus of this term is the European Union. That, I am quite sure, sounds dull. But the rationale is far more interesting. I was chatting with my niece who is considering doing a masters degree once she graduates and she had come across a course in Sweden which was free. Yes, truly free! When you think that masters start around £3500 that is quite a deal. This masters in business administration was free to anyone in the European Union. She is also considering a masters in Edinburgh where she spends six months in a European city. This led to a conversation with several people where we quickly concluded that we did not know the answer to the following question 'what are our rights as European Union citizens?' Shocking, I know. On the news last night there was an item about how us Brits are annoying other European member states with our constant requests to opt out of European Union laws in areas such as employment. At the age of 48 I am not sure I am that bothered about my European Union rights but I do believe that my children should know because there are obviously doors to be opened.

So today we began our delve into the European Union and I suggest this topic may take some time. The reason I mention all this is to illustrate our approach to home school. At the beginning of each term we sit down with the boys and discuss what we have covered recently and what they are still interested in. I have half an eye on the English national curriculum but it really is only half an eye. The good thing about the national curriculm is that it gives us a structure to take account of and a range of relevant topics per subject. However, we do not follow it as intended. We simply use it as a guide to ensure that our children will be roughly at the same place when they leave school as other children. The most importance influence on what we study comes from these family discussions. As a result of these discussions we agree on a range of topics to study together and then one or two to study alone. I think it is important for children to be able to follow their specific interests at their own pace and our system allows for that as well as more conventional group study. Last term George began a topic on birds of prey and Max studied some aspects of China.

Harry is 17 and now doing his vocational qualifications with distance learning colleges and Molly (20) is at university. With all our children we have emphasised the importance of questioning. Questions often start a topic and we aim to have answered them all by the end. We are now at a unique stage in the education of our children. With only George (15) and Max (12) left in full time home school we rarely differentiate the work they do. On the whole they work at the same level and that speaks volumes to me about one of the joys of home school. In a more traditional school setting children are limited a bit by the middle achiever and although there is provison for less or more able children it is patchy and not always successful. Home school allows children to work at their own pace so, over the years, Max has caught up with his older brother well enough to do the same work.

This period will come to an end quite soon as George is ready to sit his GCSE equivalent in maths and Max is not quite ready. They sit qualifications when they are ready and we are not confined by timetabling issues. Molly took six GCSEs, three one year and three the next. This system worked really well for her as it allowed her to concentrate on few subjects and get better results. Her grades in the end were A*, A, A, B, B, and C. She then had more than she needed to move onto A levels. All of her qualifications were achieved through distance learning providers supported by two slightly stressed parents. We only ever intended taking the children as far as GCSE but the sixth form college she had a place at in Derbyshire suddenly lost all its funding and no other local provider offered Environmental Science which she felt was critical for a career in conservation. So, Molly was back at home for A levels and it was a very testing couple of years. She needed 240 UCAS points to get into her first choice university but actually achieved 320 so the girl done good!

Harry and possibly George and Max are not interested in university so are taking their Maths and English before jumping straight into vocational qualifications. You name it, you can probably study it through distance learning. Harry's level 3 diploma in health and fitness is the equivalent to an A level but if you asked him to study say Geography A level he would probably run a mile. George is probably going to move into animal care course follwoing a similar path to Molly but he wants to study his courses by distance learning and, you've guessed it, the courses are already out there. George can go all the way to a masters degree in this field and all studied from home.

Over the years I have become quite well read on the different distance learning providers so if any of you are considering this type of study for yourself or your children just drop me a comment and I will get back to you. As you might expect the quality of the provision is not all the same. In my previous life working at a university my job was to assess quality so that has come in very handy.

So today has been life affirming as the boys were truly engaged with their studies and I was delighted that they could identify nearly all the countries in Europe and name their capital cities. I am not sure I could do that when I left school. I am asking a number of local young people to do some guest blogging as they have had more traditional schooling on the island. As I said in an earlier blog I am not anti-school and can clearly see the benefits. No system is perfect and we just felt that our family could do it our way and that is what we have done. I am not sure what Pete and I will do with all our time when home school is finally finished but I can guarantee we will miss it. At least I will know my rights as a European Union citizen!

We are expecting snow tomorrow so I have a nice range of sledges at the ready. Our lands slopes quite nicely for sledging. I am not convinced a 48 year old woman should be sledging but, by now, you will know I can be a bit of a rule breaker.

I just wanted to end with a link to a fabulous blog called the good life in practice. It is written by a lovely lady who has recorded her experiences of living a simplier, more sustainable life, firstly in a garden in the UK and now in Switzerland. I have been fortunate enough to guest blog for her and my article is up currently but do take some time to explore the rest of her blog. The link to her blog is now in my side bar so we can all keep up with her new project in Switzerland.
Picture today is from a burn that runs through the island and can be admired en route to Lochranza in the north of the island. A great place for a picnic and a lovely walk as well. Now could you all please cross your fingers for some snow so I can go sledging. Many thanks xx